What You See Is What You Are

Learning to See: Everything Is Holy

What You See Is What You Are
Friday, May 29, 2015

Franciscan spirituality emphasizes a real equivalence, symbiosis, and mutuality between the one who sees and what can be seen. Francis had a unique ability to call others—animals, plants, and elements—“brother” and “sister” because he himself was a little brother. He granted other beings and things subjectivity, “personhood,” and dignity because he first honored his own dignity as a son of God (although it could be the other way around, too). The world of things was a transparent two-way mirror for Francis, which some of us would call a fully “sacramental” universe.

All being can correctly be spoken of with “one voice” (univocity) as John Duns Scotus put it. What I am you also are, and so is the world. Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. Or, as Augustine said, “In the end there will only be Christ loving himself.”

To get to this 3-D vision, I must know that I am, at least in part, the very thing I am seeking. In fact, that is what makes me seek it. But most do not know this good news yet. God cannot be found “out there” until God is first found “in here,” within ourselves, as Augustine profoundly expressed in his Confessions in many ways. Then we can almost naturally see God in others and in all of creation, too. What you seek is what you are. The search for God and the search for our True Self are finally the same search. Francis’ all-night prayer, “Who are you, O God, and who am I?” is such a perfect prayer because it is the most honest and always true prayer we can continue to offer.

A heart transformed by this realization of oneness knows that only love “in here” can spot and enjoy love “out there.” Fear, constriction, and resentment are seen by spiritual teachers to be an inherent blindness that must be overcome. These emotions cannot get you anywhere, certainly not anywhere good. Thus all mystics are positive people—or they are not mystics. Their spiritual warfare is precisely the work of recognizing and then handing over all of their inner negativity and fear to God. The great paradox here is that such a victory is a gift from God, and yet somehow you must want it very much (Philippians 2:12b-13).

The central practice in Franciscan mysticism, therefore, is that we must remain in love, which is why it is a commandment as such (John 15:4-5), in fact, the great commandment of Jesus. Only when we are eager to love can we see love and goodness in the world around us. We must ourselves remain in peace, and then we will see and find peace over there. Remain in beauty, and we will honor beauty everywhere. This concept of remaining or abiding (John 15:4-5) moves religion out of esoteric realms of doctrinal outer-space where it has for too long been lost. There is no secret moral behavior required for knowing or pleasing God, or what some call “salvation,” beyond becoming a loving person in mind, heart, body, and soul yourself. Then you will see all that you need to see!

Gateway to Silence:
“The world is in truth a holy place.” —Teilhard de Chardin

Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 7-10

Image credit: The Legend of St. Francis: 15. Sermon to the Birds (fresco detail), 1297-99, Giotto di Bondone, Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi, Italy.